Getting back on the horse

It’s a fecking blog – of course it’s self-indulgent – but it’s therapeutic processing some of my mental murk and connecting with you.

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve put finger to keyboard to capture some of my pomtifications. It’s not that this blog is one of those side projects of mine that I initially throw myself into guns-a-blazing and then let drift off on to my psychic shelf to gather dust, unloved and forgotten. The truth is I’ve been through/am going through an intensely busy, but richly expansive phase of my life right now with shit loads going on and mental, spiritual and physical challenges aplenty floating around my little sphere.

So this blog is really about getting back on the horse, dusting off the writing rust and sharing with you some of the things that I’ve been up to, some of the lessons gleaned and a perspective on the human condition as seen through the prism of me. Self-indulgent? Well it’s a fecking blog – of course it’s self-indulgent – but it’s also therapeutic processing some of my mental murk, as well as about connecting with you, dear reader, so if you get something out of it – that’s a bonus – but in the words of The Specials, “It’s up to you want you really want to do. We can’t force you to dance to this music, we’ll play on regardless, it’s up to you, you strictly you and you.” Why do I always ending up quoting The Specials? Tell me why, tell me why?

Let’s get physical

By the end of the Christmas break, I felt like I’d taken on the appearance of Father Christmas – well not quite, but I’d put on a few kilos, felt a bit sluggish and like I was going through the motions with my training regime. I wanted to get fit for the forthcoming veterans’ football season and for once in my life wanted to obtain the fabled six-pack, sure to look good on the beach – or at least better – but more than that to feel good about my body again. A few of the younger members at our gym had done a ten-week fitness challenge and put up ‘before and after’ pics up on the gym’s Facebook page showing their markedly tauter and more sculpted bodies. It got me thinking – I’m always encouraging my personal training clients to mix it up – perhaps I needed a new challenge and some variety to rejuvenate my training regime?  Plus, I was on a ‘holistic’ diet – as in eat as if you’re trying fill a seemingly bottomless hole. I sat down with Luke, the ever helpful and affable gym manager, and he talked about the regime he and his counterparts had followed to get the results they wanted. It was basically this for the first five weeks train every day – no rest days – although have a day or two of lower intensity stuff. For the last five weeks you up your game by training twice a day for at least three to four days a week, and once a day for the remaining days. Diet was not massively prescriptive – lay off the booze and sugary shit – no problems there for me – portion control and avoid eating heavy carbs – pasta, rice, bread etc after lunchtime. So, dinners would be a portion of protein – meat, fish, eggs etc and a side of green veg. The theory being that your metabolic rate naturally slows down as your body slows down in the evening, so you’re more likely to stack on KGs if your stuffing down the calorie rich carbs then than if you take them on in the morning/middle of the day.

So, I got into it with a vengeance. Having had body fat readings and muscular measurements taken at the beginning of the program using the skin fold calipers (or ‘fat clamps’, as I call ‘em) my goal was to shed at least five per cent body fat, get a tangible six-pack and get myself in shape for the forthcoming football season. It was easy enough to begin with, I was enthused with the new regime, I’d booked in some-one-to-one sessions with Luke and the team which were half hour heavy weights with lots of reps and high intensity cardio sessions. They were murderous – but, boy, did I feel a sense of accomplishment afterwards. By week five, I was beginning to feel it and the slope was about to get markedly steeper with double sessions being phased in. Willing myself out of bed at dawn was getting increasingly challenging – but I kept my eyes on the prize and kept thinking about that before and after shot – it’s amazing what a powerful motivator my vanity/ego can be!

I was also spurred on by my half-way measurements pointing to the fact I was well on track to succeed. By week eight, I was lusting after the thought of a big, fat curry. Another factor that was proving to be challenging was fitting all the sessions in without disrupting my family life too much – when you start hearing, “I suppose I have to make dinner and the kids’ sandwiches again, because you’ll be at the gym, won’t you?” from your wife – highly supportive of me as she is in these endeavours – there’s the realisation, this can’t go on forever. The change in me was quite empowering though, tired as I was physically much of the time, I felt like I had bags more energy mentally and people were noticing the difference not even asking but stating, “God you’ve lost weight haven’t you?” “Wow, you’re looking reaaally healthy!” Oh, how my ego and self-esteem lap up those kind of affirmations! Finally, I’d done it and the results surpassed expectations – 5cm off my waist, 6kg weight loss (nearly a stone) and critically six per cent reduction in body fat and I’d managed a “four-pack”, if not quite the full six-pack, all in the space of 10 weeks. And I was happy with that – I’d reinvigorated my training regime, shredded down, reminded myself I could meet these challenges – however, I was happy to drop back to a slightly more manageable training regime. And for the record that Saturday night curry at the end of the program was one of the best I have ever had!

Lessons learnt: It’s good to shake up my training program every now and then and get back into healthy eating-ways. But finding a sustainable middle ground is important too for the sake of balance in my life and for family relations and my marriage.

 

Before
Before….
After
After…vanity is sometimes a great motivator.

Helping myself by helping others

Last year I enrolled to a volunteer drug and alcohol counselling course with the Cyrenian House agency. This entailed attending Saturday training classes at Cyrenian House over the course of four (?) months followed by doing an evening’s counselling for one night a week for one of Cyrenian House’s partner community drug and alcohol counselling services for a year or so. I chose to do this for several reasons:

  1. To understand my own addiction/recovery better.
  2. To give something back and turn my own experience with addiction/recovery into something that could potentially help others.
  3. Potentially one day to perhaps consider doing something else as a career helping other people, so to have a look at what that might be like.
  4. As I’ve mentioned before in my blogs about recovering from addiction someone once said to me, “If you want to increase your self-esteem – do estimable things.”

Although the course stretched me somewhat and getting up to go and study and learn after a long week at work was undeniably challenging – it was fascinating to learn new perspectives on addiction and ways of helping people to recover from it. My fellow trainees were a fantastic bunch of people and I felt like I learned a hell of a lot about my own experience of recovery. The counselling itself was very challenging to begin with – I was very nervous. After all, you feel like you have a big responsibility to these people who have some mega-tough challenges going on in their lives – many battling mental health issues, difficult relationships and hard social circumstances and here they are asking for your help. And some simply aren’t ready to change their behaviour – the drug they are using continues to serve some purpose in helping them cope with their lives and they’re just not ready to let that go yet.

As a counsellor, you have to accept that and sometimes accept the best you can do is sow a few seeds, get them to at least contemplate changing, so at some point in the future when they are ready to change, they will come back or seek some other form of help and support for their addiction/using habits. On the other hand, there are those who are ready to change and you can help them make that journey –  it may sound hackneyed, but make no bones about it, it is a journey. In these instances, as you watch the person before you get better and better week in week out and see the soul within emerge from the fog of addiction, it’s a truly rewarding and life-affirming phenomenon to behold. It comes with many bumps, just as my own ongoing recovery did and still does, you remove the substance or reduce its use and a lot of painful/negative shit has to come out – precisely because the substance/addictive behaviour was there to suppress and drown out all that psychic toxicity. But if they can hang on and work through the fog, there is the light of hope living a purposeful life potentially with love and some happiness in it. I’ve had to sack my football training with my veterans’ football team on a Wednesday evening (and God knows my team-mates will tell you that I need it) to do my shifts – but it’s a small price to pay.

Lessons learnt: Doing voluntary work helping others has strengthened my personal values, helped make me feel better about myself and has further helped me make sense and use out of my ongoing recovery from addiction. It’s added to my renewed sense of purpose and has given me some fresh ideas about directions I could go in the future.

Brain gain

As part of venturing into counselling and as part of my need to attain continuing education credits, I’ve been doing a Cert IV in Drugs and Alcohol and Mental Health Counselling, along with a motivational coaching course aimed at personal trainers. When I finished my post-graduate diploma in newspaper journalism, training to be a news reporter, I said I would happily never do any significant academic/vocational training again. What I’ve discovered, though, is that these days I love learning about new areas and new skills. I’ve got a brain and just like my body it needs exercising/developing and so what if I’m the northern end of my forties? It is challenging of course, finding time to do course work in my lunch-hours at work, over my precious weekends, sometimes at the crack of dawn and sometimes hitting the computer and the books after a long day at work. But nothing invested, nothing gained, right? Online learning allows you to learn/study at your own pace these days too, which is helping me fit all this in around my busy family/working life. Looking at the disciplines of modern counselling approaches and life and motivational coaching, I can see there’s a lot of overlaps – so there’s been a nice synergy where my learnings in both areas have been complimenting each other. And it’s all food for thought, again with a few ideas of possible future projects beginning to take form. Stimulating stuff and I most definitely want to keep on learning.

Lessons learnt: Many. New skills. New knowledge. New ideas. Never mind higher education – “learning for life” is my new credo.

Write on

Quite some time ago, I started a book project which involved me taking up boxing to train for a fight and stand-up comedy to a sufficient standard to get a professional gig, in a bid to overcome depression. I’ve been chipping away at the resulting book for years. I’m still determined to finish it and get it published. I am hoping I will be able to share a little bit more about it with you in future blogs. I’ve actually finished a first draft and it’s waaaayyyy too long. As any aspiring writer will tell you, one of the hardest things about writing a book, particularly your first book, is knowing what to leave out as much as what to include. So, a few months ago, I connected with a couple of like-minded writers and we formed a little writers’ group. We share bits and pieces of our writing and get together every now and then and give each other constructive criticism about each other’s work, as well as giving each other creative and, I would say, spiritual support – I do think writing can be a spiritual as well as an intellectual process. In the two wonderful women whom originally initiated the writers’ group, I have found two kindred creative spirits. Another young writer has joined our group and it feels very exciting to be part of this nascent, creative collective. When we get together, it’s tremendous fun too – we chew the cud, talk bollocks (mainly in my case), eat pizza and pasta, before getting down to the business of discussing each other’s work. It’s been tremendously affirming for me and has given me a bit more confidence in my writer’s voice and instinct – helping me to weed out a lot of the crap and having a bit of direction in my editing. Watch this space.

I also attended a University of Western Australia publishing day for aspiring writer’s recently, which had various speakers from all parts of the publishing game talking about all aspects of publishing. It was stimulating, insightful, nourishing, but heavily laced with a sobering infusion of realism. One of the main take-away messages from the day was “If you think getting published will change your life, it will break your heart.” Good to hear – part of the reason it’s taken me so damn long to write my book, is that when I first started writing it, I harboured the hope that getting it published would catapult me into the stratosphere as a world-wide best seller. All part of the delusional life I used to live. So I agonised over practically every word, I wrote. These days I am much more realistic and my main goal is to complete it to a standard I am happy with – and submit it to a publisher and just see what happens from there. Ultimately, I will get the book out there by one way or another – so watch this space.

Lessons learnt Writing is an integral part of my life and I am a happier person when I’m engaged in it – so whether I end up getting my book published is not the be all and the end all – although, of course, it would be a fantastic thing for me if I did.

So, there you go that’s been me for the last few months – and now I’m firmly back in the saddle, giddy-up – I look forward to connecting with you again soon

Ben

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One thought on “Getting back on the horse”

  1. Congrats on all that you’ve accomplished! That’s so amazing that you’ve been volunteering and helping other addicts. You will definitely make a difference in their lives. Wish you all the best – speak766

    Like

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